Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Past Driver Profile: Zsolt Baumgartner

Zsolt Baumgartner was born on January 1, 1981 in Debrecen, Hungary. He began racing in karts in 1994 at the age of 13. In 1994 and 1995, Baumgartner placed second in the Hungarian Go-Kart Intercontinental Junior A Championship. In 1997 he started racing cars and joined the German Formula Renault Series in which he finished in third place. In 1999, Baumgartner moved up to compete in the German and European Formula Renault 2000 Championships and he was able to win the German championship . For 2000, Baumgartner moved up to the German Formula 3 Championship in which he drove for GM Motorsport. Baumgartner was able to achieve a best finish of fourth place in the season but at the end of the year he place 13th in the championship. He started 2001 staying in the German Formula 3 Championship and achieved a best finish of sixth but following disappointing results he switched to the Formula 3000 series.

Baumgartner signed up with the Prost Junior team to contest in second half of the 2001 Formula 3000 series. These races did not produce any significant results with a best finish of 13th place at Spa-Francorchamps. Baumgartner remained in the Formula 3000 series for 2002 racing for Nordic Racing this time. Nordic racing had won the championship with Justin Wilson the previous season so Baumgartner was hoping for strong results but he did not manage to score any points until the final round of the season at Monza in which he finished sixth to score a single point. The highlight of Baumgartner's 2002 season was he got to do a demonstration run in a Jordan Formula 1 car for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Baumgartner once again remained in Formula 3000 for the 2003 season this time racing for Coloni Motorsport. Baumgartner did not have many strong results by securing only two points scoring finished. He placed seventh at Barcelona and a season best fifth at Monaco. For the Formula 1 German Grand Prix, Jordan allowed Baumgartner to drive in a Friday test session. At the Hungarian Grand Prix, Jordan Grand Prix driver Ralph Firman had a massive accident in Saturday Practice which knocked him unconscious. Since he was unable to take part in the race, Jordan had to find a replacement quickly and chose Baumgartner. This made Baumgartner the first ever Hungarian to take part in a Formula 1 race. With minimal time to prepare for qualifying, Baumgartner was able to qualify in 19th place for his first Formula 1 race. Baumgartner failed to finish the race due to his engine failing on lap 34. Firman was not ready for the next race which was the Italian Grand Prix so Baumgartner got to take part in that race as well. Baumgartner qualified 18th this time and managed to finish the race in 11th position. Firman returned for the final two grand Prix of the year.

It looked like Baumgartner was going to secure a race seat with Jordan for the 2004 season but negotiations fell through. This led to Baumgartner coming to an agreement to race with Minardi for the season instead. At the season opening Australian Grand Prix Baumgartner qualified in 17th position but he set the slowest time in qualifying and retired from the race early. Baumgartner once again qualified 17th at the following Malaysian Grand Prix and recorded his first finish of the season in 16th position despite being four laps down. For the Bahrain Grand Prix Baumgartner set he slowest time in qualifying and was over a second slower than his team mate Gianmaria Bruni. Baumgartner once again retired from this race.

Baumgartner was able to improve on his best result of the season at the San Marino Grand Prix in which he finished in 15th position once again four laps down. Following another retirement at the Spanish Grand Prix Baumgartner was able to set a faster lap in qualifying than team mate Gianmaria Bruni for the first time in Monaco. This race saw over half the grid not able to finish and despite being the last car classified Baumgartner finished in 9th place. Baumgartner  finished 15th at the European Grand Prix and 10th at the Canadian Grand Prix. At the United States Grand Prix Baumgartner once again set the slowest time in qualifying but in another race which saw lots of attrition Baumgartner was able to finish a career best 8th position which scored  Minardi its first points in over two years.

Baumgartner set the slowest qualifying time for the next three races which were at France, Great Britain, and Germany. Baumgartner retired from the first two and then finished 16th at the German Grand Prix. For his home race in Hungary, Baumgartner was able to out qualify his team mate but was out raced and finished in 15th as the last classified runner. At the Belgian Grand Prix Baumgartner qualified in 18th but was faster than Giorgio Pantano's Jordan and Ricardo Zonta's Toyota. His race ended early though as Jenson Button had a tire explosion and spun out of control into Baumgartner. Baumgartner ended the season with a 15th place finish at the Italian Grand Prix, 16th at the Chinese Grand Prix, a retirement in Japan, and then another 16th at the season ending Brazilian Grand Prix. Baumgartner was not retained by Minardi and did not get any offers to race in Formula 1 which ended his Formula 1 career. Baumgartner does however remain the only Hungarian that has raced in Formula 1.

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